There are few certainties in life. Death, taxes and José Mourinho becoming the next manager at Old Trafford are three of them. The Portuguese’s long awaited arrival in Manchester to secure his dream job seem a foregone conclusion, and barring another Ed Woodward inspired screw-up, he will likely take charge this summer. Who needs who more – manager or club – is rendered irrelevant this point; Mourinho will be the United manager sooner or later. But what will his Manchester United look like?
Another rebuild awaits the Red Devils, and Mourinho will rebuild Old Trafford in his own image. It is hard to envision that he will take the job without the full authority to do so. It will start in his backroom, where Louis van Gaal’s Dutch backroom staff are unlikely to continue if the veteran is granted an early retirement. Key confidants of Mourinho, such as Rui Faria, Silvino Louro and others, are very likely to join him at Old Trafford.
Then what of Ryan Giggs? That is a key question of the Portuguese’s potential reign. Mourinho has embraced former players before as his assistants – Aitor Karanka at Real Madrid, for example – but would the Welshman be willing to be an assistant again after being touted as Van Gaal’s successor for so long? Giggs ego would take a battering, leaving the Welshman to potentially seek pastures anew. It is a great unknown and this may also mean Woodward is finally relieved of footballing duties, with Mourinho or a Director of Football rightfully taking charge after years of disastrous leadership.
Tactics and personnel changes
Mourinho’s tactical set up is likely to remain the same. The defensively solid 4-2-3-1 that still allows plenty of width is the formation he is likely to employ – one he used at both Real Madrid and Chelsea. David De Gea’s future is uncertain, but with Jorge Mendes representing both Mourinho and De Gea the world’s leading agent may convince the Spaniard to remain in Manchester. Sergio Romero’s year long stay in Manchester is likely to end in the summer, with an experienced back-up likely to arrive to relieve De Gea.
The Portuguese is fond of strong, pressing full backs. This means Matteo Darmian and Luke Shaw are likely to be first choice next season, fitness permitting for the injury-ridden pair. There has to be some hope that Mourinho’s spell at Chelsea has humbled him somewhat, and at Old Trafford he may be more relenting when it comes to playing youth. If so, Guillermo Varela and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson are likely to provide backup for the first XI having proven themselves as capable this season.
Central defence is a real issue for United, and for a manager of Mourinho’s style new arrivals are certain. High-class central defenders are the bedrock of all the Portuguese’s great teams, which means Woodward is going to have to seriously open the chequebook to sign at least one target. Raphael Varane is unlikely to leave Real Madrid now that Zinedine Zidane has taken charge. John Stones was chased by Mourinho last summer, but Aymeric Laporte is a logical target.
Laporte, yet another Mendes client, has a €50 million release clause – with United’s spending power it makes far too much sense for him not to join. Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo may fit the bill of the defenders Mourinho will want to keep around, but the same cannot be said of Phil Jones. Jones’ inability to stay fit or steadily improve may see the Lancastrian finally depart Old Trafford after a bizarre five seasons.
Midfield evolution ahead
Morgan Schneiderlin is likely to fill the role that Nemanja Matic shone in last season, shielding his defence and helping launch counter attacks with quick passing to more creative players. Who takes the slot alongside the Frenchman will be interesting. Whether Michael Carrick signs a new contract is a point of intrigue. Bastian Schweinsteiger is likely to stay, despite his recent injury woes, which may mean Carrick heads for Major League Soccer or perhaps Newcastle United, being that the Englishman is originally a Geordie.
Controversial figure Marouane Fellani’s United career is all but over when Mourinho arrives, and this will be a very popular decision amongst the fanbase. The Belgian is a symbol of the failed Moyes and Van Gaal regimes, and many will be pleased to see Fellaini depart. It remains to be seen what sort of future Daley Blind has at Old Trafford, but his versatility and underrated ability to start attacks with incisive forward passing from deep defence or midfield could see Mourinho retain the Dutchman.
Ruben Neves, Mourinho’s countryman from FC Porto, would be a terrific addition to the United engine room. The incredibly talented 18-year-old is already a key player in the Porto set up; the deep-lying midfielder is a quick mover of the ball, equally capable of playing it short or pinging passes 30 yards across the field. While not a big goalscorer, it is a skill he could add to his game over time.
Neves is also terrific defensively, and is versatile enough to protect the defence on his own if need be. In games where two defensive midfielders are not required, such as home games, this would be ideal. If Neves cannot be prised away, Renato Sanches is a target linked with United in recent weeks – the Reds could make the move in the summer.
The further up the pitch, the more interesting and unknown the changes under a Mourinho regime. Juan Mata’s future is a point of interest, but his departure is no certainty. Chelsea received an offer from United that they could not refuse and would not have gotten elsewhere, and the Spaniard is a vastly different player from the one that left Stamford Bridge in 2014. He now works hard defensively thanks to Van Gaal’s tutelage and this will play well under Mourinho.
This same defensive endeavour may see Jesse Lingard survive the upcoming cull at Old Trafford, but only if he can become less wasteful going forward. Adnan Januzaj may not be so lucky though and it would not be a surprise if a move is best for both parties. Ander Herrera has the ability to join the midfield pivot or fill an ‘Oscar-type’ role as a hard working number 10, so it’s likely the Spaniard will stay.
Memphis is a curious case for Mourinho, however. The prodigiously talented left-winger has what it takes to make it at Old Trafford – showcasing some talent earlier in the season – but whether his new manager has the patience for that remains to be seen. Considering the investment made in Memphis he is likely to get another season to prove himself. Anthony Martial is all but a lock to remain, but what position he plays is of intrigue.
New arrivals on the way?
Targets to join the current crop of attackers might include Edinson Cavani, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and Mauro Icardi. Cavani has been unsettled in Paris for most of his time in the French capital. If Zlatan Ibrahimovic does not seek a challenge elsewhere and signs a new deal alongside Laurent Blanc – who does not love Cavani – it’s likely United will be at the front of the queue for his signature come this summer. Icardi has stated a desire to remain in Italy, Mourinho’s arrival could change that dynamic.
Aubameyang would also be an outstanding acquisition. Mourinho’s great sides were built on ruthlessly fast counter-attackers. Nobody fits that bill better than the quickest man in European football. Aubameyang would be expensive, but if recent performances are anything to go by it would be repaid just as quickly as the man from Gabon can run.
Despite a lack of excitement through Van Gaal’s tenure, looking beyond to Mourinho’s appointment is reason to smile. This is speculative, of course, but Mourinho’s ability to attract high-quality talent is at least cause for optimism. Something hardly found at the club at the moment.
Mourinho has a well found reputation for spending and will be allowed to do so once again in Manchester. He will look to build a strong, fast, counter-attacking side. Whether Mourinho reinvents himself for United remains to be seen. Either way the future looks exciting.